Driving Gravel Roads

gravel roadGravel roads are a fact of life for many rural Washington County drivers.

Gravel roads present their own special road safety challenge. The issue is traction. Driving on loose gravel is harder than driving on pavement because your tires don't have the traction needed to give you stable control. Throw speed into the mix and you have a formula for trouble.

Construction materials, weather, traffic volumes, and vehicle weights can change a gravel road's condition very quickly. That's why it's so important to approach gravel roads with caution each and every time you encounter one. It may not be the same road you traveled this morning.

Here are some tips to decrease your risk when driving gravel roads:

  • Slow down. Many drivers encounter problems when they leave a paved surface for a gravel one. The first thing to do is to slow down. Your vehicle is going to handle differently when it moves from one surface to another. The gravel may be loose or it may be hard-packed; you want to know how your vehicle handles before you speed up.
  • Avoid sudden changes in direction, such as a swerve to avoid an object or animal on the road. They can be particularly dangerous, especially on loose gravel or at excessive speed. 
  • Accelerate and brake slowly and reduce your speed when approaching intersections, curves and hills. Always drive at a speed that allows you to stop easily for any hazard. Be considerate, too. As you approach other vehicles, slow down and move over to the right so you can pass each other safely.
  • Increase following distance. Even if the visibility is good and the road is hard-packed, stay at least six seconds behind other vehicles. Increase this distance when conditions are less than perfect. This reduces the danger from a cloud of dust obscuring vision or flying rocks damaging headlights and windshields.

Be ready for skids. A vehicle can become difficult to handle in heavy gravel. If the vehicle starts to skid, remove the cause of the skid by releasing your accelerator or brakes. As you release them, look where you want to go, steer the vehicle in this direction. If the tires on one side of the vehicle go off the road edge, do not immediately turn the wheel to try to get back on the road. Let your foot off the gas and steer the car so it follows the edge of the road. Slowly turn the steering wheel to gradually guide the tire back to the road.

Remember, according to Oregon law, all travel on public roads is subject to the Basic Speed Rule. The Basic Speed Rule states that a motorist must drive at a speed that is reasonable and prudent at all times by considering other traffic, road and weather conditions, dangers at intersections and any other conditions that affect safety in speed. In other words, drivers are expected to use good judgment in selecting their speed. On a gravel road, that means taking the current condition of the road surface into consideration. Best advice – slow down.